The recession of the last few years has produced several forms of pay cuts for my husband, a public school teacher. First came a 2.4 percent across the board reduction. Added to that came furlough days, starting out as just a few the first year and then growing each year to a maximum of around 10. Next came an additional freeze in automatic “steps up,” or what were small pay increases every couple of years as teachers gained experience and seniority. All told, our family’s income is down about 10 percent from where it should be at this point in my husband’s career.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m very thankful that Trevor has a job. Many people have become unemployed or underemployed during this economic slowdown. But in order for our family of six to live on such a large reduction of an already modest income, I’ve found some ways to stretch our dollars and to earn a few more.
1. Swagbucks. This is a search engine, much like Google or Bing, and so much more. As you do Internet searches through Swagbucks, you earn points (Swagbucks) randomly throughout the day. If I do several Internet searches, I often earn 20 or 30 Swagbucks in a day. There are other earning opportunities, as well, such as surveys, games, and points for signing up for newsletters or purchasing products.
My favorite part of Swagbucks, though, is the printable coupons. Through the Discover tab at the top, there’s a link to Coupons, and for every coupon that you print and redeem, you earn 10 Swagbucks! I print and use a lot of coupons, so the points really add up.
Here’s the fun part…..you can redeem your Swagbucks for all sorts of items in the Rewards Store. My favorite reward is the $5 Amazon gift card for 450 Swagbucks. That sounds like a lot to earn, but if you do a few searches each day and use several coupons a week, you can easily earn enough to get three or four $5 Amazon cards each month. It’s not going to make you rich, but it can sure help out with day to day expenses. As I’m sure you know, Amazon carries everything, from food items to books to clothing to movies, and on and on. Those Amazon cards come in handy! There are many other gift cards available, such as Walmart, Starbucks, Target, CVS, Lowes, Olive Garden, and so on, but they all require more Swagbucks than the Amazon gift card.
2. Ebates: For stay-at-home moms like me, shopping online is a necessity, but did you know that it can also save you money? Many stores offer cash back for online purchases through Ebates. Cash back amounts vary depending on the store, from as little as 2 percent of your purchase up to 40 percent. I’ve gotten some phenomenal deals on items such as magazines and ink cartridges with Ebates cash back, but even small amounts back add up. To earn cash back, simply go to Ebates and search for the store, then click the link to that store within Ebates and complete your purchase. The cash back will be credited to your account usually within a few days. You will receive your cash back by check or a Paypal deposit once each quarter.
If you sign up for Ebates, you will receive a free $10 gift card to one of four stores (Macy’s, Target, Walmart, or Kohl’s) or a $5 Ebates gift card after you make your first $25 purchase. It’s fun to make money on items you were going to buy anyway!
3. ShopAtHome is very much like Ebates in that you earn cash back when you make purchases by clicking through their site. It’s very quick and easy to use. I’ve found that the hardest part is remembering to click to each store through Ebates or ShopAtHome first!
ShopAtHome and Ebates also offer various coupon/promo codes that can be used when checking out at online stores, so be sure to take advantage of those, as well.
4. ibotta: This is a new digital coupon app that you can load to you phone or device. It provides numerous eCoupon offers each month for products in grocery stores, home improvement stores, restaurants, and so on. You simply complete a couple of easy tasks for the offers that you want to redeem, then purchase the items, take a picture of your receipt, scan the barcodes on your items, and upload the information to ibotta.
The money that you earn for each ibotta offer is added to your account, usually within a few minutes, and when you have amassed several dollars you can transfer the money to your Paypal account (I always choose this option and then transfer the money right back into my grocery budget.) or purchase gift cards to Redbox, iTunes, Starbucks, and so on. One cool thing about this is that you can use a paper coupon in the store on the items and still receive your ibotta cash back. This makes for some super cheap products!
5. SavingStar: This eCoupon service is similar to ibotta. One big difference: You load your store loyalty cards onto the app, and SavingStar keeps up with your purchases for you. You simply have to activate the offers that interest you and then purchase those items in your store. When SavingStar receives your purchase information from each store showing that you purchased an item on their list (usually within a couple of weeks), your account is credited.
Another difference is that in addition to offering cash back coupons for purchasing single items, such as 50 cents for a box of Wasa crackers, SavingStar also offers deals such as “Buy $20 of Weight Watchers products and receive $5 back” or “Get 20% back on your next broccoli purchase.”
Just last week, I redeemed an offer for Dole Fruit Squish’ems. The deal was $5 back when you buy $20 in certain Dole fruit products. Squish’ems are on sale at Kroger for $2 a box. I bought 10 boxes for a total of $20, used 10 $1 off paper coupons to bring my total down to $10, and I’ll get $5 back from SavingStar, which means net 50 cents a box for the fruit. Not bad at all!
One down side of SavingStar is that because it requires you to register your store loyalty card, it doesn’t work at some stores, such as my favorite grocery store, Publix. But it is available at Kroger, Food Lion, CVS, Rite Aid, and other stores with loyalty card programs.
6. Cellfire is another digital coupon service. You simply load your store loyalty card numbers, “clip” the eCoupons that you want to use in the stores, and when you purchase those items the amount of the eCoupon will come off of your total automatically.
One bummer about Cellfire is that you aren’t allowed to use a paper coupon in the store along with the eCoupon, but for those products that might not have paper coupons available, it can make for a good deal.
These are a few easy ideas for stretching your budget. I enjoy the thrill of getting the best deals possible and making our budget stretch to meet our needs. I hope that one or more of these ideas might help you, too!